Rowan stood and looked at the three unconscious Fearens on the ground around them. “They are my people the same as the Irials.” He turned away to the tree where the boy Keon was, and Jura followed him.
At first the boy seemed to be dead, but upon closer inspection he was only sleeping very deeply, for the sounds of battle had not wakened him. Rowan knelt to him. The boy was not tied to the tree as Jura had thought. She also knelt before the boy and the smell was overpowering.
“He’s drunk,” she said with disgust. “He’s not a captive, he’s merely a drunken boy.”
Rowan shook the boy awake.
Keon rolled his eyes, smacked his dry mouth, then smiled stupidly at Rowan. “My father’ll be proud of me,” he slurred. “I went to Yaine.”
“And Yaine didn’t kill you?” Jura asked, aghast.
The boy grinned and closed his eyes briefly. “Said I was brave. I told him about Brita.” The boy moved his hands to make a female shape in the air. “Yaine says he’ll marry her.” He leaned toward Jura, his foul breath making her pull her head back. “They will be a funny pair. He’s a little man, but then Brita’s not as young and pretty as you, Jura. If you had a sister, I would marry her. I would then be related to my king.”
Jura raised her eyebrows at Rowan. “Your king? You mean your father Brocain?”
The boy gave her a crooked smile. “King Rowan. King of all Lanconia. King of—”
“Where is Siomun?” Rowan said impatiently, ignoring the way Jura was looking at him over the boy’s obvious hero worship. “I sent Siomun to take the message to Yaine.”
“I tied Siomun up. I couldn’t stay there with all those Irials. My father expects me to be a man—like you. I had three older brothers and they got killed when my father sent them on raids.” He leaned toward Jura. “I attacked this Irial king, but I lived. Now I have to do more. I have to prove I can be as good a man as my father and I have to prove myself to you, King Rowan. Have I done so?”
Rowan put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You have pleased me and, yes, I believe you to be a man,” he said softly.
“So you rode alone into Fearen territory,” Jura said, then looked at Rowan. “Your innocence is affecting us all.” She turned back to Keon. “Why didn’t Yaine kill you?”
Keon’s expression changed to one of sadness. “They are very poor. Yaine says everyone steals their horses, so they must move all the time. They cannot plant crops and last winter they were very sick. Many died. They need women.” Keon’s young face brightened. “My father will give them all of our women if they want. We will take the Irial women.”
“So Yaine accepts us?” Rowan said.
Keon’s head lolled to one side as he nearly fell asleep. “Those three are to take you to Yaine. Did you kill them? One is Yaine’s brother. For little men, they sure can drink.” He closed his eyes, his head falling forward, and went back to sleep.
Tenderly, Jura eased him to the ground. “I never noticed what a handsome young man he was,” she said.
“Not colorless like some of us?” Rowan snapped. “Now, if you can stop mothering that child, we had better see to the Fearens. I thank God I did not have to kill one of them.”
Jura smiled at him as she patted Keon’s cheek. “He is actually about my age, so I don’t guess he is a boy. And he was very brave to go to Yaine alone.”
“He is brave when he goes alone, yet I am foolish,” Rowan muttered, and left her to see to the Fearens.
Jura smiled at his back, loving his jealousy. For all his faults, this English husband had a way of making her feel…well, beautiful. Not that beauty was of any use whatsoever but it was a rather nice feeling.
One of the Fearens was beginning to stir as he rubbed his sore head. Rowan sent Jura off to fetch water while he looked after the men. She returned to see Rowan holding a sword on the men while they glared at him. But Jura wasn’t surprised when, as they listened to Rowan’s explanation, their faces began to change. Jura thought that Rowan’s words just might be able to coax flies off dead meat.
When Jura stepped into the light, the men looked up at her and one kept staring. She knew he was the man who had nearly killed her, and they exchanged looks of gratitude that they were both alive.
Jura sat by the fire, behind the Fearens but where she could see if they went for their weapons, and listened to Rowan talk. Idly, she pulled a leg off a roasted rabbit and gnawed at it, then tore off a chunk of stale bread. The fire, the exercise, the safety, and most of all, Rowan’s voice was making her sleepy. She stretched out on the ground, sleepily pulled one of the sheepskins that the Fearens used for horse blankets over her, and went to sleep.
She woke, but not fully, when Rowan picked her up in his arms. For just a moment she fought against him but then she settled against him, snuggling her head against his broad, hard chest, and let herself drift back into sleep. She was not conscious of it but somewhere in her mind she knew she was safe. He had done several things that she knew were foolish, but he had made them work. He had befriended Brocain of the Zernas, persuaded the Vatell queen to allow her people to marry into the Irials, and now the Fearens were listening to him.
She opened her eyes. “Do you really talk to God?”
Rowan gave her a look of puzzlement. “I am only a man and I need help from wherever I can get it.”
She closed her eyes again and went back to sleep. She didn’t wake until it was almost daylight. Rowan lay beside her, sound asleep, his big arms wrapped about her as if she were a child’s toy. Slowly, trying not to disturb him, she tried to untangle herself.
“Do not leave my sight,” he said, not opening his eyes and tightening his hold on her.
“I need to go,” she said pointedly.